Americans seem to have had a long, special kind of reverence for the British sense of humour. Be it the slapstick Vaudeville antics of London boy Charlie Chaplin, the surreal sketches of Monty Python, or the more recent Stateside superstardom of Sacha Baron Cohen and Ricky Gervais, when America takes to British humour, it takes to it big time.
Little wonder, then, that after the insane successes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg is now considered a hot comedy property with serious potential to make it big in the US. It’s all a far cry from his modest cult following from his TV work on the likes of Spaced and Big Train – now he’s got Tom Cruise offering him parts in Mission: Impossible III and starring roles lined up alongside the likes of Kirsten Dunst.
The great thing is, of course, that Pegg’s newfound success doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. He’s still got the lovable bumbling everyman character, that’s served him so well in Shaun and Spaced, working absolutely spot-on – and it’s this character that’s getting another outing here, albeit with yet another name, and this time without tubby friend Nick Frost as his sidekick.
Of course, for many Brits, the fact that this movie is directed by David Schwimmer, better known as Ross from Friends, might look as if Pegg has given up on his hard-won credibility and sold out in the name of a fast Hollywood buck. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. Though Schwimmer will be forever cursed/remembered as the blandest character from the blandest sitcom of the 1990s, the man himself – if not quite a Woody Allen or a Bill Hicks – is actually a pretty fine comic, and certainly knows what’s funny.
Of course, the fear is going to be that Schwimmer, despite the millions he’s earned from Friends, is just desperately clutching at credibility by hooking up with the next big British comic. But thankfully for us, he’s proved himself a canny enough director to put together a film that could easily have been a Simon Pegg vehicle from the get-go.
Somehow Pegg’s everyman loser has here still got all the charm we’ve come to love him for in his earlier, self-penned outings. As in Shaun of the Dead, and to a lesser extent Spaced, he’s once again trying to prove to the girl he loves that he’s not quite the loser she thinks him to be. This time, having dumped her at the altar, five years on and with her on the brink of marrying the new man in her life, it’s down to Pegg to prove to her that he deserves a second chance. How? By running a marathon, despite being about as unfit as a man in his mid-30s can be.
It’s a simple set-up in the tradition of any number of low-key comedies, and one of those films that relies almost entirely on the audience’s sympathy for the main characters. With Pegg at the film’s heart, backed up by the gorgeous Thandie Newton, his Shaun co-star Dylan Moran and Simpsons star Hank Azaria, Schwimmer has pulled together an ideal cast. Far from being the over-the-top comedy of a Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler movie, as this could so easily have become, the end result is instead a nicely laid-back bit of amusing nonsense. No work of genius, to be sure, but with enough fine moments to be worth a couple of hours of your time. If you like Simon Pegg, at any rate, you won’t be disappointed.